clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Denver Nuggets Film Friday: The superstar that no one is talking about

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

Through the first 15 games of the season, the Nuggets are 9-6 due in large part to the play of Nikola Jokic and Will Barton and no one else. Michael Porter Jr. was in a massive shooting slump prior to the back injury that put him on the long-term shelf. Outside of a couple of flashes, the bench has essentially not produced. The rest of the team’s starters have been fine, but they haven’t been leading the cause for Denver’s wins. This team has been getting carried, and they’re lucky that the reigning MVP is strong enough to carry this workload. It’s just unfortunate that no one else seems to notice.

Since the start of last season, Jokic has missed just one game which was the game he was suspended for his retaliation following a hard foul by Markieff Morris in the team’s November 8th victory over the Miami Heat. He’s scored 20 or more points in all but one game this season, with the lone exception being the team’s 31-point thumping of the Dallas Mavericks where he shot 5-of-9 from the floor and eight assists on the night while playing only 25 minutes. Despite Jokic’s stellar play, he’s looked at as just an outsider to win the MVP award again this season.

His odds vary by sportsbook, but, on average, he has the sixth-best odds to win the MVP behind Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. While each of those five have a case for contention, none of them are doing what Jokic is doing, except for maybe Curry. Durant doesn’t have Kyrie Irving, but he still has James Harden. Luka has Kristaps Porzingis, who is in the midst of a career resurgence. Giannis has both Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton now in the lineup, but the team is just 7-8 to start the year. Embiid is currently missing time with Covid-19, and he’s already missed six games this year. Jokic is playing without Porter and point guard Jamal Murray, and he’s still dragging this Nuggets’ team to a winning record.

Good Luck Stopping Him Inside

For the year, Jokic is shooting a blistering 59.3 percent from the floor and 65.4 percent on shots inside the arc. There have only been four prior seasons where a player averaged at least 25 points per game while shooting better than 59 percent from the field. Zion Williamson last season was the first time it had happened since the 1993-94 season when Shaquille O’Neal did it. Jokic is accomplishing this feat while averaging the second-most field-goal attempts per game of the five players in this category. On this play against the Philadelphia 76ers last night, what are they supposed to do? Jokic catches the ball on the block with a big on either side of him. He doesn’t panic, and he just bounces off of the two players before flipping in the layup. They kept their hands up and moved him off of his spot without fouling him, and he still managed to score. His offense is just too damn good.

Take a look at these two plays and their timestamps. They’re basically identical. Jokic is being guarded by a center in the same spot on the floor on both plays, and they happen about four minutes apart. It simply doesn’t matter. Jokic uses the exact same move on both plays, and it’s unstoppable both times. He sets up the defender who is trying to force him to the baseline. Jokic takes what the defender is giving him and gets in for the reverse layup. Even when you try to give him the thing you want to give him, he takes it and finds a way to score.

He Sees Everything

For anyone that knows me, I’ve been a LeBron James fan since he entered the NBA. I’m not here to discuss his accolades, but he’s been widely regarded as one of the best passers of all time and arguably the best passing frontcourt player of all time. In terms of the frontcourt battle, if Jokic hasn’t passed him yet, he’s making it a conversation. Just look at this pass to Austin Rivers from last night. Jokic is on the left wing with his back to the basket. There are three different defenders that can affect this pass if Jokic is off at all with the toss. He sees Shake Milton turn his head for just half a second along with Seth Curry sliding in no-man’s land. Jokic whips the ball to Rivers, who doesn’t even look completely ready to catch the ball until it’s landed in his hands, and, with the defense still scrambling, he’s able to get inside and score. Jokic draws the attention of the entire defense, and that makes it all the more important for his teammates to always be ready for the ball to end up in their hands and to score when they get those chances.

I think the most underrated part of this shot is going to be the fact that people think Jokic didn’t see Aaron Gordon until he passed him the ball. In reality, this was a perfect pairing of Jokic knowing what he wanted to do and Gordon ending up where he was supposed to. Jokic sees Gordon in the corner, but the passing lane isn’t as clear as he would like. How does he open that lane? He spins towards the basket which draws Luka towards him. Once that happens, he has the height to get the ball wherever he wants which is how he finds Gordon for the wide-open 3-point attempt. Jokic’s combination of size, strength and basketball IQ just makes him an offensive hub that even the best defenses struggle to stop.

This Isn’t 2017 Anymore

For years, the way you could take advantage of Jokic when he was on the floor was on the defensive end. You could wear him out and attack him on that end and hope that he would be too worn out to perform on offense. Now, thanks to his improved physique, he’s become a problem on both ends. He’s currently registering career-best marks in Offensive and Defensive Box Plus/Minus, with his 5.0 on the defensive end being 2.1 points better than any other season of his career. Looking at this play from the team’s matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, Jokic does every single thing right. He has to guard Kristaps out by the 3-point line because he’s been hoisting and hitting shots from outside all game. Porzingis drives, but Jokic slides his feet and stays connected to him before eventually getting the block and forcing him away from the rim where Dallas has to force up a bad shot. When Giannis won his MVPs, he was touted as the two-way MVP. Jokic may not win a Defensive Player of the Year trophy, but he’s showing that he’s not a pushover on that end as some people once viewed him.

Our final play of the day is something that pretty much every center in the NBA is unable to do. Jokic gets switched onto a smaller player in forward Reggie Bullock. Bullock is setting him up with the jab step and threatening to rise up for the jump shot. Instead, he drives to the baseline, and Jokic is with him every step of the way. Bullock goes for the reverse, and Jokic is able to slide before going up for the block and grabbing the rebound before starting the break for his team. Some centers can switch onto smaller defenders and slide with them. Some of them have the athleticism and defensive skill to go up for a block without fouling. Some of them can lead the break on offense, but there aren’t many that can do all of those things as Jokic can.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.